I joined the 170,000 attendees of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show to review the latest technology and products on display by 3,800 exhibitors across 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space. Just walking that much trade show space needed a strategy. I happened to beat the crowds by touring the Sands Convention Center first, then walking the Las Vegas Convention Center on the second day. Lyft was by far the easiest way to get around town, cheaper than Uber or Taxis, and easily available on demand. Funny enough, most drivers use both Uber and Lyft, but get a better deal with Lyft.
Drones, Drones, Drones!
If you recall the frantic days of the MP3 players of the late 90's, every consumer electronics company was working on a device that could play music files - now that they had been freed from the confines of a Compact Disc. So too, we found that almost every exhibiting company was either introducing a new drone, selling a bad copy of another company's drone design, or giving away drones as a promotion to draw attention. There were terrifying concept drones like the EHANG human-sized drone that could be flown autonomously. ProDrone was an award-winner for introducing a relatively large drone form factor that could fold up into a compact space. ByRobot even introduced smart battle drones that fire lasers at each other - vibrating the user's controller if hit, and enforcing a controlled landing of the vehicle.
However, the lesson from the MP3 era was that the winner was defined by a combination of a clean, elegant form factor (iPod) AND introducing a media aggregation of the digital music marketplace (iTunes) AND aggressive product portfolio management with ever-increasing performance specs that effectively smashed the competition. Using the MP3 player as an example, the company best positioned to learn from Apple's example in the drone market is DJI. Barring a few hiccups with their error-prone firmware upgrades and taxed customer service team, DJI has an incredible product line and is actively curating a user-driven content sharing and developer communities that is a close corollary to iTunes and the App Store. It will be fascinating to follow this booming product category as it matures into an eventual consolidation.
Crowdfunding Drives Startup Innovation
The Eureka Park section of CES devoted a full conference floor to crowdfunded or non-dilute grant awarded companies. Walking this floor, I informally surveyed the founders of these start-ups to get their opinions on the trade-offs of using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
The concern with crowdfunding is that a company is showing its cards early, allowing fast-follower competitors with deeper pockets the time to develop around their product. When asked, most crowdfunded founders dismissed the concern and pointed to the huge benefits of market validation, building a loyal customer community, and gaining access to non-dilute capital that is essential to successful commercialization.
IndieGoGo subsidized at least 10 booths with their favorite funded projects to demonstrate how effective their platform can be. Companies like Glowforge set funding records at $27.9 million in 30 days with a desktop 3D laser cutter that makes it easy to make precision parts from unique materials like wood, plastic, cardboard. CrazyBaby's Mars levitating speakers use magnets to suspend a UFO-looking speaker above a tower for a head-turning new product that earned $800,000 in funding.
Attach Any Smart Phone to a Single Device
This isn't a new problem in consumer electronics, but it is certainly a daunting challenge: design a product that depends on the broad range of near constant shifting sizes and shapes of smart phones. One of the more elegant solutions presented is the ExoLens by the partnership of Fellowes and Zeiss. The Zeiss optics are enough to make any photographer marvel, but the attachment bracket itself is limited to only iPhone 6/6s and 6 Plus with no accommodation for cases. The machined aluminum bracket is beautifully designed and has a secure machine screw attachment, but clearly has no intention of adjusting for Samsung, HTC, or even earlier model iPhones. The trade-off of an elegant design seems to be limiting the scope of range adjustment.
By contrast, the Carson HookUpz Universal Adapter is a mechanical engineering masterpiece, aligning any smart phone camera with any monocular telescope or microscope eyepiece. Unfortunately, the product team allowed function to dominate form, delivering a product that looks its best when hidden by the products it brings together. The challenge is still out there, aa an elegant, fully adjustable solution has yet to be achieved.
Augmented Reality Matures
When we have evaluated augmented reality providers in the past for marketing solutions, it was clear the software was too cumbersome to move effectively from pre-production CAD data to an effective marketing and customer evaluation tool. The initial presentation by 3DExcite of a new app, Your Product Here, shows promise to streamline the process of migrating solid models to an augmented reality application.
One of the most effective applications of augmented reality was it's use in support of the much-heralded Faraday FFZERO1 Concept Car. By downloading the Apple App, or Google Play App and printing off the card, you get an interactive CAD model that highlights the many unique features in the concept car - all while projected onto the printed card, giving the illusion of holding the FFZERO1 in the palm of your hand.
It was a lot of fun to get to see the latest technologies and products at CES and connect with others who are driving innovation in the consumer electronics space.